CHIEF GUERIN PUTS OUT GAS WELL FIRE IN FIVE MINUTES
Went to Louisiana in Answer to Call for Help—Played Streams of Water to Meet in Gas Flow and Raised Them Till They Reached Base of Flame
Within twenty-four hours after he arrived on the scene, former Deputy Chief William Guerin, of the New York Fire Department, extinguished one of the largest gas well fires in the history of the world. It took Chief Guerin just five minutes to put out the flames which had baffled the experts of three states who had been summoned by the owners of the well to assist them in controlling the tremendous blaze. The well is located seventeen miles west of Monroe, La., and is owned by the Ouachita Natural Gas and Oil Company. It had been flowing at the rate of 44,000,000 cubic feet a day under a head presure of 1,500 pounds to the square inch. On Saturday, June 16, a gang of men were working in the well house when there was a terrific crash as the gas pressure blew off the cap from the well and sent it hurtling high in air, with fragments of the teninch pipe through which the gas was flowing. Very soon after this there was a tremendous explosion as the gas took fire. Instantly there appeared in the air a huge ball of fire which scented to hover over the well. The flames covered an area of several acres and were accompanied by a deafening roar. Owing to the pressure and the speed with which the gas flowed the flames could not approach near the ground nearer than 100 feet. The employees of the company tried in every way to control the fire but without effect, and a call was sent for help to the gas companies of Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas. Within twentyfour hours a great number of gas experts were at the scene and many means were suggested for controlling the fire. None of them proved available. At this point it was decided to call upon New York for help. A telegram accordingly was rushed to the Pyrene Manufacturing Company, asking them if they could suggest any means by which the fire could be extinguished.
Method Employed by Chief Guerin.
Three hours later Chief Guerin, who is head of the Company’s Engineering Bureau, started for Monroe on a special train. He arrived on Thursday morning and after a study of conditions devised a plan by which the fire was extinguished. “The fire had been burning since 10.15 o’clock on the evening of June 16,” said Chief Guerin. “It was extinguished at 10.15 o’clock on the morning of June 22 after it had been burning for five and one-half days. In that time 242,000,000 cubic feet of gas had been burned, the loss being conservatively estimated at $4,500,000. After the fire had been burning for three days the State Consultation Commissioner, J. H. Owens, called on the Company and insisted that something be done to extinguish the flow and save the gas. It was proposed to dynamite the well and extinguish the flames by concussion. This method, however, would endanger the casing and it was considered that as a cure it might be worse than the disease. Gas wells have burned in this section for years and the prospect of losing this amount of gas on a daily flow of 44,000,000 cubic feet was staggering. After looking over
the situation I decided that the problem was exactly the same as one that I had faced while in the New York Fire Department. The only difference was one of degree. Two hose lines working under very high pressure were led up to the well as close as possible and the water turned on. After cooling the ground and what remained of the pipe the two lines of hose, opposed to each other, were gradually raised. Meeting as they did in the column of gas, as soon as the stream reached the base of the flame the water was turned into steam which formed a curtain shutting off the gas from the blaze above in such a way that the fire was extinguished almost magically.
Representatives of oil and gas interests say that this method of extinguishing a gas well fire is absolutely new and that it provides a weapon which will take much of the terror out of gas well fires in the future. The fire in this case was complicated by the tremendous size of the flow of gas and the terrific heat which was generated. This prevented anyone getting close to the fire to attack it in the usual way while the pressure of gas made usual methods of procedure absolutely futile.
Report by Chief Guerin.
Chief Guerin made a report on the fire in which he said in part: .
“I arrived at Monroe, La., at 5 p. nt., June 21. I wired that I was coming and went direct to the Ouachita National Gas Company’s office where I met the office manager, a Mr. Flowersheim. I told him frankly that until I saw the conditions I could not tell what could be done. I asked what their plans were for extinguishing the fire, and Samuel Hunter, son of the principle owner of the wells, outlined it to me. It was a very simple and piacticable plan, and might have succeeded eventually, although some elements were not provided for. They invited me to see the well, so 1 got some overalls and went out there. I found that the well was flowing about 44,000,000 feet of gas a day, valued at $800,000 to $4,500,000 a day, based on the valuation of two to seven cents a thousand cubic feet—which is a low rate. I was surprised to find that they had a good sized pump located at a bayou nearby, and sufficient to supply two good streams of water, which were being used to wet down the men, enabling them to remove the debris caused by the breaking loose of the well. I said to Mr. Hunter, “Move those streams close to the well. Play them so that they meet in the gas flow and then raise the streams until their meeting place reaches the base of the flame. Then flatten the streams out into a horizontal fan and wipe the flames off the gas by raising them quickly.” I insisted that I was right and he finally agreed to try my plan, inasmuch as I had come so far. The foreman on the job said, “You can turn the Ouachita River into that fire and never put it out.” Nevertheless we advanced with the streams, carrying them forward behind sheet iron screens to protect us from the heat, until we were as close to the well as we could get. Then they did as I bade them—and the fire was out in less than five minutes. Such clapping of hands you never heard. Never before had they heard of a gas well being extinguished with a stream of water. Gas wells had burned for years and were put out only after expensive experiments. If all other means failed they were going to try to explode dynamite hoping to cause a puff of air strong enough to separate the fire from the gas, but they were afraid they would ruin the well if they did it. I really believe that I have discovered a new set of principles for the fighting of gas fires and I expect to see them incorporated in the Louisiana Laws. The Commissioner of Conservation of Natural Resources of the State had two of his men at the well. One of them—a Mr. Arthur—was in Monroe when I did the job and he changed his route to ride with me as far as Vicksburg so that he could get data for new laws regulating the protection of oil and gas wells. I gave it to him and got him to put into his amendment a plan which I have devised for the use of an extinguishing apparatus using pyrene liquid. This plan is intended to be used where water is not available. Mr. Arthur promised to send me a draft of the amendment before presenting it and I will have drawings made and a working model of the device built. The streams of water wiped the flame off the column of gas very much as you would wipe dust off the piano. It seemed to disappear like magic, as the streams of water pushed the flame away from the roaring jet that was rushing from the opening in the earth.”